Snorkeling off the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef – Caye Caulker, Belize

I figured it was best to start off New Years with some amazing clear blue water snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea. I walked towards Front Street, picked up a recycled water bottle full of delicious fresh squeezed OJ, and compared some company prices to book a tour. For a rather decent price (<$30 american), I got a half day trip that included snorkeling to Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, Coral Gardens, and Sting Ray/Shark Alley. Fruit, water (in little plastic bags!), and fresh chopped ceviche (YES!) included!
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Our tour guide gave us instructions while we zipped off into the Caribbean, and soon we all back flopped in. We were told to follow him and watch what he pointed to so that when we came up he could explain what it was we saw. Let me just say how hard it was to do this simple task. Under water was *imagine Ariel’s voice right now* A WHOLE NEWW WORLDD! The colors screamed out at you and the details were incredible! There was so much to look at–I am the kind of person who can appreciate a stone by just admiring its tiny little details. This experience was overwhelming. I tried to pay attention to our guide but there was so much to see so I got distracted quite a bit. *Click to enlarge pictures*

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EEL!

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HELLO! *wave!

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We swam in and around these coral reefs, looking at the little fish going about their day. No wonder Finding Nemo was such an awesome movie—they had such a great model to go off of. I could totally believe the story after having gone snorkeling; there’s so much life, diversity, color and interactions happening in the water. I couldn’t help but wonder if the fish were going to their friends’ cave or delivering news or what. Ahhh… I wish I could have captured what a cool experience this was in photos. Sadly, like always, they do not suffice.

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This reef is the world’s second largest barrier reef, right after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It is 190 miles out of the MesoAmerican barrier reef (560 miles total!) It is something I hope gets protected because obviously, it attracts many tourists to Belize (and the tour operators don’t always abide by the laws concerning its protection 😦 ) Hurricanes, rising temperatures, bacteria/pollution also damage them easily. They are delicate structures, really. Currently, it has 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral, over 500 species of fish, and 90% of the reef still needs to be researched. I would love to research the coral reef…maybe I will one day!

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given to hold by the tour guide!

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I would make a cute boy, wouldn’t I?
The fish are so beautiful. Each and everyone one of them 🙂
We boated to the next spot and passed around the fresh juicy and delicious fruit and ceviche. Bellies full and warmed by the sun, we were happy and ready for our next adventure. At the coral gardens we were allowed more free time. We had about 30 minutes to swim on our own and look at whatever we wanted. I could have stayed all day. I would have been happy staying in one snapshot of space for the full 30 minutes. Fish would pop out of areas you didn’t notice before, others go down holes, some come out of hiding, schools would pass by! So much to observe in one spot; so much freedom of the fishes! It was so relaxing and exhilarating at the same time to be able to separate from the tour and go hang out quietly with the fishies.

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Our last stop was sting ray alley. Tour operators aren’t supposed to feed the wildlife..but rules aren’t always abided by. By the time we stopped the boat, there were already swarms of sting rays circling our boat. It was terrifying! Our guide threw in some piece of meat and they all attacked it, going crazy and attracting more sting rays and even small sharks. He teased us by daring us to go in. We did.

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It was such a creepy feeling being next to these dangerous animals. I thought, surely they aren’t dangerous, otherwise we wouldn’t be feeling them brush past us? Then I remembered Steve Irwin [RIP]. Someone probably thinking the same thing, asked, ‘are they safe?’ to which our guide responded to, ‘As long as you don’t step on them! Watch your feet!’ Which still wasn’t very comforting. Then, as if mocking us, our guide grabbed a sting ray and flipped him over. He had his hand in the poor guys mouth and we watched the creature flapping his cheeks (?) in a way that looked like he was trying to breath. He let him go and grabbed a nurse shark. I looked at him horrified. What the hell was he doing?! He teased me to touch him. I felt his smooth shark skin and left. Although the snorkeling trip was absolutely amazing, it did make me feel uncomfortable that the guide was not following established rules (yes, I am a hypocrite but I am also a child! I am young I still make excuses for everything).

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I don’t think it’s a good thing to be feeding the fish like that either… I suggest as a good tourist to look up your tour companies well before you book! Support ecotourism and the local companies so they don’t have to resort to these kinds of things!
Still, the trip was absolutely amazing. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy snorkeling as much as I did. If you haven’t been before—put it on your list.

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[Belize is also home to the Blue Hole. There are several atolls and many other cayes that are excellent for snorkeling. Consider: Tres Cocos, Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye, Long Caye Wall Turneffe Islands Atoll & Glovers Reef Atoll for places further from Caye Caulker]

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